Finally! Other Stuff is About to Happen!

The BCCI completely flouted the Future Tours Program – and thus the legitimacy of the international calendar – in scheduling a two Test series at home against the West Indies towards the back-end of this year; in what is difficult to see as anything less than a cheap, engineered attempt to give Sachin Tendulkar (or the batsman formerly known as Sachin Tendulkar) a 200th cap and a significant last hurrah in front of his home fans, India have successfully managed to endanger the chances of their tour to South Africa even happening and have flexed their muscles, effectively saying for all to hear: ‘we are the power; we are the money. We decide what happens, where and when’.

Of course the West Indies couldn’t reject this offer (and can’t be blamed for not doing so), the television rights on hand will effectively keep cricket in the Caribbean alive for another twelve months, so who can blame them for accepting, and becoming embroiled in the whole affair? The consequences are bound to be dire though: financially Cricket South Africa are going to suffer should the tour fall through; and cricket fans will also, seeing as the last two Indian tours to South Africa have been hard fought and largely entertaining.

I’ve started off in such a manner, in order to express my boredom of the power games that the Goliaths of the international game become entrenched in. I don’t wish to include South Africa as much into this equation, but the Indian board are bang centre in the middle of it. Indian fans often construe attacks on their administration as being attacks on the team also, or – God forbid – the country itself; this is most definitely not the case on this page, and I hold no such prejudices against India: the cricket team or nation.

The Indian, English and Australian administrations have effectively created a sub-group among the full member nations, and have ascended to a realm of insular discussions and closed-door scheduling that puts the very entertainment value of the game at severe risk to those who follow each facet of the game with an obsessive vigour.

It is such a bore continuously watching this India-England-Australia axis face off against eachother, in yet another sequence of increasingly dull contests; I’ve struggled to maintain any interest in these almost annual five-match ODI series these teams play against eachother: they are a poison in the fixture-list.

Yes, yes, yes, I understand all of the implicit financial-minded, demographic-baiting, technocratic bull that is spouted by the media-trained players and administrators in explaining the meaning of these fixtures; but there is no meaning to them other than filling up the coffers.

Tomorrow, Bangladesh will take on New Zealand, and I – for one – am bloody excited for this. As soon as I wake up tomorrow, at 7:45 GMT, I’m going to shoot over to the big ‘ole cricket site we all know, and check the scorecard. Maybe I’ll tune into a New Zealand sports station and listen to the commentary whilst I struggle to open my eyelids fully.

My main point in this article is that we have to glory in the majesty of a New Zealand-Bangladesh tour; we have to delight in the upcoming South Africa-Pakistan series. To the casual fan, explore the fixtures and tune into a Zimbabwe Test. What the BCCI have displayed in their arrogance, is that Test cricket is not a level playing field anywhere other than the actual playing field itself. India, England and Australia don’t need any other teams to survive economically, looking at the amount of matches these three play against eachother, not much evidence is needed to convince one of the distinct divisions that are being formed.

So enjoy the Tests that are played not involving these three sides while you can, because with the BCCI, the ECB and CA showing no desire to spread the wealth and re-distribute some of the millions they acquire, it is a decent bet that within the next decade, a Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe or Bangladesh might not be able to stage a Test, or afford to host a full Test series. Honour the game, and spread your interest beyond nationalist support, and I promise you, you’ll have a greater appreciation for cricket than you ever thought you could have.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Haiku on the Whole Nick Compton – Andy Flower Affair.

Compton deserves his
spot on the plane, but Andy
has fuck’d him again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Year Ago Today……… Thanks All

I started this blog a year ago. I’m not sure about minutes or hours, but I remember lying on my bed at home (London) typing out some words in the same carefree manner as I am now, precisely twelve months ago.

This space is just one of legion on the World Wide Interwebs, but I’m grateful to all those who have taken the time to stop off, and read my articles.

From the seventeen hundred word monoliths that were laced with strange spatterings of VERY personal details alluding to the minutiae of my private life that I published during the Winter of 2012; to the smaller, more controlled pieces I wrote in the early months of 2013. I’m content with everything I’ve written on this blog, and I’ve appreciated each view and visit from you: the slouched browser, the bored and restless, the vaguely interested.

I also want to take this opportunity to let it be known that over the next ten months, output is likely to remain staggered. I’m entering my third and final year of university. Times will be tough. At the very least, there will be a new post at a minimum of once a month.

I also will – as I did this Summer – avoid writing about the Ashes, as I’d much rather focus on other series’, featuring the ‘smaller’ nations. You know, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa and Bangladesh. There will be hundreds of thousands of words written on the Ashes; I’d like to re-focus at least some of the attention unto the other sides in international cricket, as the Ashes IS NOT ALL LIFE.

So, thank you very much for reading and please continue to do so. I appreciate all feedback, and would be much obliged if you were to spread this page to those interested (or not, I’m not fussy). Thank you, thank you, and thank you again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kyle Jarvis: A Victim of Modern Cricket?

Cricket, like all modern sports, is managed and run with the main priority being the acquisition of vast profits. Money is king; money talks. Often, the development of the game and the development of talent that could enhance it is left behind as the money isn’t perceived to be there in support of it, or the cost isn’t seen as worth the potential long-term benefits.

Over the weekend Kyle Jarvis joined the ranks of Sean and Craig Ervine, Ray Price, Andy Flower, Henry Olonga, Murray Goodwin and many others in leaving Zimbabwe (in many of these cases leaving indefinitely) and it’s national cricketing side in search of a financially viable career within the sport.

Kyle Jarvis leaves just days after senior players within the side, including the captain Brendon Taylor and other veterans such as Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda, created a form of players’ union, in the hopes of earning far higher than they do per-Test, ODI and T20 appearances.

The Zimbabwean economy has been in free-fall since the early 2000s, largely due to the controversial acceleration in pace of land ownership reforms that sought to re-address the ethnic imbalance of agricultural demographics: a sore left over from colonial Africa. Though I do not wish to go into any depth on the pros-and-cons of these controversial developments, the primary consequences of these policies resulted in a reduction of agricultural production by around a third, and Western governments responding by placing sanctions against Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and in many instances, halting any financial aid.

Zimbabwe’s economic problems reached a peak in 2009, when they experienced drastic hyperinflation; at the height of this instability, $1.2 trillion Zimbabwean dollars was worth about one British pound. The Zimbabwean dollar was abandoned that year, and since, the country has not had a stable currency, typically US dollars are employed as the standard tender.

Inside of this fractured economy, Zimbabwean players and contract holders are paid handsomely. But in a country where upheaval never seems too far away, job security – and indeed one’s own – must seem fragile. Craig Ervine for example missed out on a central contract and was forced to face the reality that he was set to earn around $100 dollars a week if he were to take a winter contract: Ervine chose to ply his trade in English club cricket instead.

Zimbabwe Cricket (henceforth referred to as ZC) face heavy debts as the sport has been unable to escape the economic downsizing in the country as a whole, the reality for them is that if they were to meet the players’ demand for increased financial stability, hosting tours and touring would have to be reduced. Financially ZC can’t afford to pay the players what they desire: so the players leave the country, which results in Zimbabwe being unable to field a competitive side, thus losing potential television revenue as other big sides see playing Zimbabwe as a task not worth their time. It is a horrible cycle and it feels as though good times are very far away indeed.

Kyle Jarvis has been a figurehead since Zimbabwe resumed playing Tests in 2011. He has been a revelation. With a beautifully smooth run up, and repeatable, well-manufactured, Glenn McGrath-esque action, Jarvis bowls incisive outswing at a good pace. An average of 31 is pretty much par for twenty-first century seamers, but being able to boast of such an average when playing for such a weak side is very encouraging.

Just twenty four years of age, Jarvis is bound to have a long, successful career in the sport. But money talks; a sportsman has a short career and must make what they can in that time. Jarvis cannot be blamed for turning his back on his country, but ZC needs support should anyone ever hope to see Zimbabwean cricket in a healthy state again.

When one looks at the bloated excess of the IPL, one wonders: if only 2% of the television profits from that competition was put into the weaker nations… If only.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paradise Regained: What a Bore

I wrote an article a while ago where I discussed my love for the sport of cricket as a whole, as being far stronger than my singular, nationalistic support of the England side. A clear example of this sentiment, was my utter disappointment when New Zealand were unable to press home their advantage in Wellington and snatch the series win they so deserved earlier in the year.

Now the Ashes, regardless of what many people have argued, is a special series: it makes cricket fans of the normally uninterested, and scoreboard-checkers of the usually uncaring. The Ashes probably shouldn’t mean as much to the modern professional cricketers of England and Australia: it no longer is the pinnacle of the game, a tour of India or South Africa are undoubtedly far tougher challenges for both teams; but the Ashes IS the World Cup to the general public and in Sydney or London, for most, it is the sole yardstick for how one’s side is getting on.

The thing I look most forward to, when the Ashes come around, is the fact that it is the only remaining five-Test series on the international fixture list. Due to the proliferation of T20 and One Day internationals, and the decline in demand since these shorter formats have flourished, a five-match series other than the Ashes is a non-existent entity.

I think this is a tragedy. The five-Test series can offer something that most other sporting events cannot: a narrative. The sheer majesty of a one-on-one contest that lasts six to eight weeks, allows mini-contests to emerge; six week careers can be birthed from these series’, think of Botham’s Ashes: he never needed to play another Test after 1981, as his name had become cricketing legend.  Can you name a three-match series subsequently referred to as often, or with such reverence?

The weakness of the five-Test series though, has been in full display this summer. When one of the teams involved is clearly weaker than the other, or underperforms, it can all be over by the third Test; thus, rendering the last two rather pointless, resulting in a massive anti-climax.

The first Test of this series was undoubtedly an exciting one, resulting, as it did, in the Australians – due to a last wicket partnership – missing out by merely fourteen runs. But the result was only ever that tight due to two freak tenth-wicket partnerships of 163 in the first innings, and 65 in the second. Take these runs away, or at least half them, and the Test would have been far more comfortable for England. The second Test was just a complete demolition, as Australia’s batting completely collapsed.

I want to throw away the claims though, that Australia have exclusively been the cause of this lop-sided series. I think they have performed worse for sure (England are 2-0 up for a reason), but England have also been thoroughly underwhelming. In the first Test, England’s bowlers and Alastair Cook’s captaincy lived up to the criticism of many: unable to improvise or experiment when faced with the unpredictable, and thus, made to look ineffectual. Ashton Agar is not Don Bradman; he shouldn’t have been allowed to almost make a ton. If it wasn’t for Australia batting like a junior side, England might have been made to rue a below-par first innings at Lord’s in the second Test.

That England were made to sweat, and were near definitely saved by the rain in Manchester, displays that the difference between these two sides is far less than some of the awful commentators and journalists would have you believe. Though many people grew up watching a weak English side trounced over-and-over, may disagree, I see no glory in a one-sided series; I have no desire to gloat over what has been low-quality cricket.

One cannot argue with the retention of the Ashes (victory in this series isn’t confirmed yet), but it was rather appropriate that the urn was retained among the drizzle and disappointment of a squandered Test, reflecting the damp squib this series has been. What a shame.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘The King Is Dead; Long Live The King!’ Why I Believe Andy Flower’s Time Is Running Out

Andy Flower, as the coach of the England cricket team, deserves the universal acclaim he has received, but just as Duncan Fletcher eventually left the same role among a tainted, rancorous atmosphere, I believe Flower’s time must come to an end: preferably after the Australia tour.

The title of my essay references a quote often exclaimed, but rarely with any understanding behind its employment. Medieval kings were said to be effectively possessive of two titles, of two substances almost: the king as physical reality, as a human being; and the symbolic title of ‘king’, as the divinely chosen representative of the nation they ruled: as being the nation. The sentence functions due to this dual meaning, when ‘the king is dead’, meaning the corporeal reality of the king’s physical existence, the second clause makes sense regardless, as the symbolic nature of the ‘king’ who represents the nation can never die: another will take up the mantle, and the land persists regardless of who wears the crown or sits on the throne.

Duncan Fletcher throughout the first half of the previous decade was a colossus: The man who restored pride to English cricket after a generation-long slump. The Ashes victory of 2005 was the pinnacle of his time in charge, as a young, beautifully balanced team executed plans to the utmost of their abilities, vanquishing an almost fabled Australian team of legends. Fletcher deserves every inch of type that speaks well of him.

But how did it all end for the quiet Zimbabwean?

A cricketing winter-of-discontent; a five-nil whitewash in Australia; a poor World Cup campaign; ‘Fredalo’ and strange selectorial decisions that hinted towards a man at the end of his tether, no longer with a finger on the pulse.

Duncan Fletcher left in the spring of 2007, soon to release an autobiography that revealed even more of the farcical events that dominated his last months in charge of the England side.

‘The king is dead; long live the king’.

Andy Flower took charge under even more farcical circumstances. With the Peter Moores-Kevin Pietersen leadership axis reaching fever point after just three Tests, the ECB steamed in, heads rolled. After an enthralling five Test match series defeat in the Caribbean, Flower got the gig; England won the 2009 Ashes series and began the climb toward the summit. 3-1 and 4-0 later, England held the Test Championship mace aloft, Flower and his captain Andrew Strauss triumphant.

Just as the ink had flowed and the laptops crackled for Fletcher’s team of 2005, Flower’s 2011 Test champions watched as their dreams of domination began to migrate from groggy heads to the back pages of the newspapers they read over morning protein shakes.

Nothing can last forever and things are ever changing. Time can be a bitch: there’s only ever too much of it or too little. In the UAE, England discovered in the ugliest of manners the tempestuous nature of sport. A hungry Pakistan team ran circles around the leaden footed English: forget Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran, this was Leonard vs. Eric Pickles. Destruction. 3-0.

But we all hoped it would be a lapse, besides, no Western team conquers the Asian dust-tracks right? We did manage to claw back and keep the number one spot by levelling the following series 1-1 in Sri Lanka after all; Just a lapse.

England vs. South Africa in the summer of 2012 saw the two undoubted best teams in Test cricket line up against each other. It was to be a series to remember. Instead, England looked out-powered and out-thought, utterly destroyed in the first Test at the Oval. In the second Test match, Kevin Pietersen launched an attack on the cricketers he had grown up with. His 149 belies description.

But then we had the ‘it’s difficult being me in this dressing room’ conference and tales of texts and treachery. Andrew Strauss felt undermined by Pietersen purportedly sending unflattering texts about him to some of the South African players. The ‘KP’ thing had been boiling for some time.  Pietersen had been expressing frustration over the bloated international schedule and apparently wanted to give up ODIs, but continue T20s. Andy Flower took umbrage at this, with a supposed agreement that players should make themselves available for every format. A very strange policy, when one considers that some of the best players in the world, including Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Michael Clarke had all retired from a format (T20) in order to prolong their ODI and Test careers.

It is difficult to deny that Kevin Pietersen is often selfish and arrogant; but it is even harder to argue that his dissatisfaction over the inability for English players to exploit the IPL window and the over-saturated fixture list is a worry without some considerable substance.

Flower and Strauss played their card: Pietersen was left out of the deciding Test match, one that they might not have lost were he playing. One will never know how much the Pietersen issue affected Strauss’s decision to retire from cricket following the series defeat and subsequent surrender of the Test Championship mace, but it can be considered as a symbolic moment: the one that chinks first began to show in Andy Flower’s armour; that doubts began to arise.

The issue that has caused me to completely lose faith in Andy Flower’s leadership has been the on-going treatment of Nick Compton. Nick Compton, we now know, has not even been included in the squad announced for the first Test in Nottingham; judging by the faith Flower and company have in Joe Root, it is likely that – barring injury – Compton may never feature again in Test cricket. Now Joe Root is clearly the future of English cricket: he is monstrously talented and so assured that he must be considered a future captaincy prospect and Jonny Bairstow is also a player of great potential; promoting a 22 year old with such promise ahead of a 30 year old who has had a less impressive beginning to his international career, on paper, seems a sensible choice.

But regardless of all this, if Nick Compton’s future was viewed upon as so unstable, so short-term and easily terminable, why even bother using him as an opener over England’s previous nine Test matches? Why not employ Root in this position before you throw him into the intense cauldron of an Ashes series, where the press will magnify his every mistake; leap upon each technical or mental flaw? Nick Compton did bat poorly against the Kiwis in England, but so did Ian Bell (a man with one Test century in his previous nineteen matches), and Jonny Bairstow is yet to reach the century milestone that Compton clocked in consecutive away Tests, his first of which came about in the most intense of match situations.

If Flower’s reason for dropping Compton is that he did so with the long-term prospects of the side in mind: then he has wasted the last half a year, psychologically damaged and alienated Nick Compton and also stocked a huge amount of un-needed pressure onto England’s finest young player.

The cracks began to show in the UAE and Flower’s mis-management of Pietersen and Compton suggests that the united dressing room that swept all others on their way to the number one ranking is not quite as harmonious as it once was. The introduction of a job-split with Ashley Giles minding the limited overs formats occurred nominally to allow Flower to focus exclusively on coaching the Test side. But cricket, unlike other sports has a chequered history with job-shares across formats, with this progression, Flower’s future came under more scrutiny than it had before as followers of the sport began to wander: what would happen if Giles’ side succeeds while Flower’s fails?

Andy Flower is the most successful coach in the history of English cricket, and deserves every reward and fine word he has received; but no one man is bigger than the game in this country.

‘The king is dead; long live the king’.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chris Martin Retires: A Tribute (via The Sideline Agenda)

Chris Martin: one of the hardest working cricketers of the last two decades.

Chris Martin: one of the hardest working cricketers of the last two decades.

Chris Martin, at the age of 38, has called stumps on an underrated two decades of service for New Zealand cricket.

The fact that he shares the same name as the world famous lead singer of the moody pop group: Coldplay, is emblematic of a career spent at the coal face of seam bowling, in the shadows of those more glamorous, and of his ability in excelling when operating under the radar of most commentators.

In the thirteen years between his first and seventy first Test, Chris Martin’s 233 wickets are enough to make him the fifteenth most successful bowler in Test cricket during this period. Though he sits beneath the Warnes and Steyns on this list, he also rises above some noticeable bowlers: Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Chaminda Vaas and Jason Gillespie, to name but a few. A bowling average of 33.81 with a strike-rate of 60.1 may lead one to think of a career marked largely by middling stats and mediocrity, but to do so would be an injustice. 

Chris Martin often cut a lonely figure when leading the New Zealand bowling attack throughout the 2000s. 

Chris Martin, due to the absolute tragedy that saw Shane Bond’s explosive talent inserted into a body that could not stand the rigours of Test cricket, was forced to become New Zealand’s premier quick bowler throughout the vast majority of his career. This was a role that did not come naturally to Martin. His supreme fitness and reliance on accuracy, with a niggling line that ducked into the right handers and away from the left at brisk pace, allowed him to bowl long spells in all weathers: he would have been the perfect new ball foil to a genuine strike bowler. However, he was not afforded this fortune: he had to lead the attack, and despite his lack of genuine speed or dramatic late swing, Martin had several successes to revel in.

Most of which seemed to occur when playing the South Africans. 55 wickets from fourteen games at an average of 26.72 display the skill he definitely possessed. Alongside this, he had a fantastic record against two of the grittiest, toughest characters in World cricket: dismissing Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis eight and six times respectively; that Jacques Kallis, cricket’s ultimate run grinder only averaged 14 when facing Martin is a feat the Kiwi can be very proud of.

His Test best figures of 11-180 came against South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland 2004. After a promising start to his Test career, Martin’s form had dissipated and he was dropped from the Test team for two years. Eleven wickets in a match-winning, comeback match against the might of Graeme Smith, Gary Kirsten and Jacques Kallis is a staggering achievement. It is worth bearing in mind that one of Chris Martins’ chief fast bowling contemporaries, Brett Lee, never managed to take a Test match ten wicket haul; Lee did take ten five wicket hauls, but perhaps unexpectedly, this is the same number as Chris Martin took in five Tests fewer than Lee. Though he was no express-paced strike bowler, Chris Martin made up for this through his guile and perseverance.

Lithe, long-limbed and punctuated with a bunny hop before delivering the ball, Chris Martin’s bowling action was well-oiled and consistent throughout his career. A few paces may have disappeared towards the end, but the mechanics remained roughly the same at 38 as they had at 25. What got Martin his wickets was his nous (a brilliant example of this here, where in four balls, he dismisses Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB De Villiers): the subtle leg-cutters that combatted a natural inclination to angle the ball from off-to-leg; slight manipulations of length; the oft-chastised wide ball coming across the left handed batsman, inviting the flashing blade as Christmas does tired mothers to video game stores and M & S.

The exemplary fitness levels he maintained into his late-thirties served as a beacon to those he played with. Indeed, the influence his bowling had on this young generation of quicks that New Zealand are garnering is beyond measure. Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan and most players in the Plunkett Shield have not had a harsh word to say to the grand trier of New Zealand cricket. Everything Chis Martin achieved he deserved, there remains nothing more than to say alla salute, raise a drink, and watch a compilation of his incomparably awful batting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5GAiWEQipQ

This article was first published on The Sideline Agenda website (http://thesidelineagenda.com/).
Original location of the article: http://thesidelineagenda.com/2013/07/03/chris-martin-retires-tribute/.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment